Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Horton and Ma and Pa Ingalls Held Hostage by Janet Costello Baressi, DDS

Janet Costello Baressi, DDS, must be a skilled dentist. She has been successful, and her own smile is lovely. I would never presume to critique her work, or to offer suggestions.

I am a reading specialist, with 39 years of teaching experience, K-12, and college level adjunct work. I have taught remedial reading classes in elementary and secondary settings. I offer this as my credentials.  I am an NBCT, with current certification in English Language Arts, Reading Specialist, Library Media, Yearbook (we all have yearbook certification) and World History (don’t ask!!). I am qualified to speak to DDS Baressi’s remarks about reading and reading instruction.

I attended the House debate and vote yesterday for HB2625, which amends the current RSA, giving parents and teachers a voice in the promotion or retention of their students. It was eye-opening, and gratifying to see the House join the Senate in overwhelmingly supporting parents and their rights to be involved in their own children’s education. There was a slight hiccup when Representative Nelson tried to include his voucher bill, but he lost big, and spent the rest of the afternoon sniping and posturing.

DDS Baressi was disappointed that the House and Senate both voted to substantially change her signature bill, the 3rd Grade Flunk law by having the temerity to include parents and teachers on a committee that will make retention decisions. She holds complete faith in a test to do that job, and she isn’t shy about telling us so.
Her press release, offered less than 20 minutes after the final vote in the House, eeirely echoed the words of Representative Nelson in the House Chambers – that this bill will promote social promotion. I wonder if they were working from the same page.

DDS Baressi, in her own words:

Illiteracy in our children must be a call to action. 

Did she just call our kids illiterates? Our nine-year-olds, who have been practicing their reading skills for just a few years? Kids who are still learning the complexities of taking meaning off the page?

“The RSA ensures the greatest resources and amount of time available to intensive, customized reading instruction.

No, the RSA provides fewer than $100 per child for remediation…for supplies, resources, professional development, and tutoring costs. Florida, which is the originator of this idea, funds their version with tens of thousands of dollars, every year. Once again, Oklahoma is mandating on the cheap, on the backs of our kids and teachers.

The point of the RSA is to focus education for struggling readers long before they reach third-grade.

I highly resent her implications that teachers weren’t focusing on struggling readers before her magic-pill law. I’ve worked with elementary teachers…they are heroes of epic proportions. They respect and honor the complex work of learning. Every day they create magic.

Instead of providing an alternative to learning to read, which this pending bill does, we should instead spend our energies helping these students read.

“Alternative to learning to read?” What is an alternative to learning to read? Reading takes time. Not all of us learn in the same way, at the same time. Representative Henke pointed that out in her remarks in the House Chambers: “All kids learn differently.” Those of us who cheered and applauded were reprimanded…no displays in the Chambers…but applaud we did.

Instead of taking the easy way out, we need to make certain every effort is made by parents, teachers and our communities to help these children learn to read.”

Remember, this bill gives parents a place at the table when making decisions about their own children’s education, something DDS Baressi and Representative Nelson  scream to the housetops when it involves charters and vouchers. But parents’ rights for public school parents? That’s the ‘easy way out.’ That’s somehow thwarting a child’s education. To quote Representative Inman, “I’m sick of this rhetoric.”

House Bill 2625 reinforces a status quo that has failed far too many children.

You know, the real status quo is the current testing climate. Over ten years of NCLB, and now RttT, has created this new status quo: high stakes testing attached to everything in school. Now kids are failed and refused diplomas because of test scores. Now schools and districts are graded on test scores. Soon teachers will be evaluated on test scores. THAT is the status quo, and I absolutely agree – this status quo is failing children. I don’t think she knows what that phrase really means.

It places exorbitant costs and time on school districts by mandating fourth- and fifth-grade reading remediation for students with Unsatisfactory and Limited Knowledge scores.
NOW she cares about costs to schools? Oh Puleese! This is the same woman who suggests districts pay a raise for teachers out of their carry over funds. Now she cares??

It undermines a law that districts have had three years to comply with and involve parents in its implementation.

I’m intrigued by that last statement. Is she saying parents were involved in the implementing of the current law? Are they like those mythical teachers who wrote CCSS standards? Parents, please let me know if you were consulted and involved in this bill. I’d love to know more.

Before the vote, State Superintendent Janet Barresi said Monday if a third grader can’t read first-grade level Dr. Seuss books, fourth grade books like “Little House On The Prairie” are really going to frustrate a child.

BUT what really chapped me, the reading specialist, the reading teacher, is this, her insistence that the current RSA and the current test actually tests reading levels. First, the test she is bound to, the test she wants to flunk kids with is NOT a reading test. It’s a hybrid reading-language arts test…with vocabulary questions, literary elements questions, and reference questions. Second, the test cannot (I repeat CANNOT) give us reading levels. Her cute visuals of the books is bogus. This test does not give reading levels, something a reading test could. And third, instead of reading levels, this test is one that can be manipulated by politicians and policy makers. The score for ‘proficient’ the cut score is set, by a committee, or not. The score moves from year to year, at the whims of people far removed from the children and the teachers whose lives are affected by the scores.

Back to Horton and Ma and Pa Ingalls. She identifies Horton as a first grade level, and Little House as a fourth. Jason James, who has written extensively about the third grade reading-language arts test, points out DDS Baressi’s two examples are really closer in grade level than she realized. Not a surprise…she is a dentist, not an educator.

This is not the first time she’s waded into the reading arena unarmed with any facts. In an appearance before of stalwart GOP loyalists, she tried tostart the Reading Wars again, bringing up the dreaded ‘Whole Language’ readingmethods.

She says the children retained because of their test scores do not actually “repeat” third grade, they only take reading classes to catch up.
I’m completely baffled by this assertion. Kids won’t be repeating third grade? They’ll actually be in fourth grade, trekking down the hall to take reading instruction? What?
Representative Reynolds, in an act of complete brazenness, asserted strongly that he knows kids are “more likely to learn to read with other kids who read at the same level.” I muttered under my breath (I hope), “RESEARCH??” He later said he didn’t need research, since he had stories of how retention is good for kids…he must not have gotten the memo that this will NOT retain kids in third grade…NONE of us did.
Barresi said, “For those few children that don’t qualify under these exemptions, then let’s just stop as a state and say ‘let’s give you the gift of reading’.”
Gag me now. Just gag me. 7970 third graders did not pass the reading-language arts test. 7970 children were told they are not good enough, and won’t pass. Henke in her remarks in the House quoted a figure of 2%-3% of these 7970 children will qualify for a ‘good cause exemption’ and be promoted. Who am I going to believe? Not the dentist.

IF we’re not retaining these kids, as she said above, why are we ‘stopping?’

I couldn’t find evidence that yesterday she used her patented line, ‘Learning to read vs reading to learn.’ I think my head might have exploded. As it was, more than once yesterday, I was ready to launch myself over the railing in the balcony of the House, to confront a stupidity uttered as truth by one Legislator or another.

DDS Baressi is on the wrong side of this argument. The parents, grandparents, teachers of those 7970 children are on the right side. While her words are practiced and smooth, her skills are not those of an educator. She is tied to a policy that will continue to fail our children. She must put Horton and the Ingalls back on the shelf and find a way to work with the legislators and parents who have stood up to her and said, enough.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, your vote of confidence means a lot. I hate how politics is twisting education.

  2. Why is a dentist the State Superintendent of the Oklahoma State Department of Education???

  3. J Mailer, look at the educational system across the board. Most of those in charge at the state level or higher have corporate backgrounds or educational but not instructional, meaning they have Ed degrees but have never spent any significant time in the classroom. That is why we get corporate solutions from these eggheads instead of insight and assistance that might actually fix the issues.